Did you check out Part one of this series yet?
PART II: NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, DAY ONE
(Click images for a closer look)
First, a stop at the Loveless Cafe, just outside the city of Nashville. We settled in for some authentic Southern food, complete with biscuits, home-made preserves, country ham and gravy. Not only does this famous cafe fill up the stomach and the soul, they also host Music City Roots concert and radio show in the Loveless barn every Wednesday. We were there for an early lunch, so we weren’t able to stay for the show. At $10 a ticket, it would be worth a trip back.
I was excited and admittedly a little anxious about this leg of the journey. I had so much to see and so little time. Although Nashville, known as “Music City,” is home to The Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium,
I didn’t feel like seeing a Patsy Cline tribute or any mainstream auto-tuned country acts on this trip. I feel like some of those Top-40 stars have lost some heart and soul by the time they get to that uber-famous level. I wanted to see the musicians and singer/songwriters who played in the little clubs and divey bars. The hard-working ones who still play gigs in town and drive to gigs all over the country. Most of my favorite shows I’ve seen over the years have been lesser known artists playing in smaller venues.
One artist I wanted to see if he happened to be in town was Nashville resident Will Kimbrough. I’ve had the honor of meeting and chatting with him over the last few years, so I was hoping we could catch him at a gig in town. He’s constantly touring, so it was a long shot.
I first heard of Will while listening to Radio Margaritaville several years ago. Will plays and writes with Jimmy Buffett, so Jimmy in turn plays some of Will’s solo work on his online radio station. Will is not only a very talented singer/songwriter with a long list of solo albums, but he has also produced albums for various artists. He was “Will” in Will and the Bushmen, the late 80s alt-pop group, and he currently shares the spotlight with Tommy Womack in Daddy. Will has also played sideman for Todd Snider, Rodney Crowell, and most recently, Emmylou Harris. He has been nominated and has won “Instrumentalist of the Year” from the Americana Music Association. He is a self-proclaimed workaholic musician. Will is so humble; I forget how great he is sometimes.
Will was indeed in town and would be playing guitar for Marshall Chapman at The Station Inn. Minton Sparks would open the show.
The Station Inn reminded me of Seattle’s gritty, divey Tractor Tavern, only smaller. The Station only holds about 100 people and has been around for about 30 years. It is located in “The Gulch” district, a newly renovated area a few blocks off the main strip, where swanky, expensive restaurants and condos tower over the little brick tavern. We walked into The Station, though, and felt right at home.
We found a nice old cushioned pew with a small table near the side of the stage and settled in. We joined Will for a brief chat before the show began. We exchanged a beer-bottle toast and he welcomed us to NashVegas. He said The Station Inn is the Bluegrass Capitol of the World, although this night would be a little different, as we were soon to find out.
The opening act, Minton Sparks, is a spoken-word poet and musician–a speaker-songwriter, she calls herself. She was dressed like a Southern Belle church lady, down to her little white patent leather purse and matching shoes. Ms. Sparks had that Southern drawl where the words tended to linger on her lips before being gently released. She could weave a story so well, and pull us into each character’s life. A few times I had to pull back and remember where I was; I became mesmerized by each vignette. Some were a little dirty, some were hysterically funny, and a couple almost made me cry. Titles and words seemed so simple, but would twist and turn into something completely dark or more complex as the story progressed. Some of my favorites were “Vicky Pickles’ Mama,” about a bikini-clad middle-aged neighbor; “Suburban Snake Handler,” which was as dirty as the title implies; and a yarn about meeting and talking to Minnie Pearl and spilling her soul to her. Minton brought along John Jackson who played acoustic guitar and followed and adjusted his volume and tempo to match her characters’ mannerisms and quirks and jerks.
Marshall Chapman is a very busy singer/songwriter, author of two books, and recently simultaneously released a new album, Big Lonesome and nonfiction book, They Came To Nashville.
She recently played the road manager to Gweneth Paltrow’s character in the movie Country Strong.
Ms. Chapman greeted us wearing black UnderArmour basketball shorts, an oversized black t-shirt, and bare feet. Her gray hair was loosely pinned up into a crazy bird’s nest. I liked her already, and she hadn’t sung a note. She peered out into the audience and exclaimed, “Not bad for a Wednesday night in Nashville!“
Marshall’s latest songs are mostly folk/Americana, but her roots go back to rock ‘n’ roll. Her songs, like Minton Sparks’ words, told a story. Some were more personal than others, such as “Tim Revisited,” and “Down to Mexico,” both written about Tim Krekel, her deceased friend and music partner. She said sometimes the songs write her.
A few times in between songs, she would break out her latest book, They Came To Nashville, and read passages. I enjoyed her story about asking Willie Nelson for an interview for her book; and after not being able to set a date with him due to his busy schedule, he invited her to travel around with him on his tour bus for a few nights. Marshall also wrote a song about the experience called “Riding With Willie.” She has a very natural way of storytelling, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind and share a bit of her heart. She strums to the rhythm of her own guitar; she is truly unique, and I completely admire her.
Will Kimbrough accompanied Marshall onstage. Will’s guitarmanship was in fine form, although a bit subdued to match the folk genre and Station atmosphere. He had some slow solos that showcased his total instrumental control. He played a bluesy slide, and interchanged his two guitars to match the mood of the song. The mostly quiet and polite audience responded with loud whoops and applause when Ms. Chapman introduced him after one such solo.
After giving praises to Marshall and Will, we called it a night. We wondered how we would top that show on our second night in Nashville.
GO TO PART III OF THIS SERIES!